Because we live longer with more stressful lives today, we expose our teeth to more years of potentially damaging habits such as clenching, grinding, and chewing on hard objects. These habits make our teeth more susceptible to cracks. In many cases, the way the pain may come and go makes it difficult for the dentist to locate the source.
Cracked teeth do not always show any visible signs of damage, but may present with any of the following symptoms.
- Erratic symptoms that come and go
- Pain when you chew
- Pain or sensitivity to heat and cold
Depending on the severity of the crack, our dentist may be able to treat a cracked tooth to prevent further damage to the tooth structure and tissue.
Why Cracked Teeth Hurt
When the outer hard tissues of the tooth are cracked, chewing can cause movement of the pieces, and the pulp becomes irritated. When biting pressure is released, the crack can close quickly, resulting in a momentary sharp pain.
Irritation of the dental pulp can be repeated many times by chewing. Eventually, the pulp will become damaged to the point where it can no longer heal itself. The tooth will not only hurt during chewing but may also become sensitive to extreme temperatures. In time, a cracked tooth may begin to hurt all by itself. Extensive cracks will lead to infection of the pulp tissue, even spreading to the bone and gum tissue that surround the tooth.
Types of Cracked Teeth
There are many different types of cracked teeth. The treatment and outcome for your tooth depends on the type, location, and extent of the crack.
Craze lines are tiny cracks that affect only the outer enamel. These cracks are:
- Extremely common in adult teeth
- Tend to be very shallow
- Cause no pain
- Are of no concern beyond appearance
When a cusp, the pointed part of the chewing surface on a tooth, becomes weakened, a fracture can result. The weakened fractured cusp may break off by itself or have to be removed by the dentist. When this happens, the pain will usually be relieved. A fractured cusp rarely damages the pulp, so root canal treatment is seldom needed. Your tooth will usually be restored with a full crown by the dentist to strengthen the broken off area of the tooth that remains.
Some cracks extend from the chewing surface of the tooth vertically toward the root. A cracked tooth may not be completely separated into two distinct segments. Because of the position of the crack, damage to the pulp is common. Root canal treatment is frequently needed to treat the injured pulp and resolve the pain.
Our dentist will restore your tooth with a crown to hold the pieces together and protect the cracked tooth. At times, the crack may extend below the gingival or gum tissue line requiring extraction of the tooth.
A split tooth is often the result of long-term progression of a cracked tooth. The split tooth is identified by a crack with distinct segments that can be separated. A split tooth cannot be saved intact. The position and extent of the crack, however, will determine whether a part of the tooth can be saved. In rare instances, endodontic root canal treatment and a crown or other restoration by our dentist may be used to save a portion of the tooth.
Preventing Cracked Teeth
While cracked teeth are not completely preventable, you can take some steps to make your teeth less susceptible to cracks.
- Do not chew on hard objects such as ice, unpopped popcorn kernels, or pens
- Do not clench or grind your teeth
- Wear a mouthguard or protective mask when playing contact sports
- If you feel that you clench or grind your teeth, consult with our dentist to see if you are a candidate for a dental splint.
Even with high magnification and special lighting, it can be challenging to determine the extent of a crack. A cracked tooth that is not treated will progressively worsen and could eventually result in the loss of the tooth. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to saving these teeth.